Game Design with Goals in Mind

While I’m putting the finishing touches on a little game I’ll be offering for free (stay tuned for next month, or sign up for the newsletter so you get an email when it is available!) I thought it would be important to share what has been my biggest stumbling block in the game design process. No, it isn’t tight budgets, distractions, or lack of time.

I did not clarify the purposes of my refinement process

I often have made slick, fun little games and then have taken forever getting them around to useful, polished, salable form. It is a type of analysis paralysis, or perfectionism; a fear of failure and a fear of success all wrapped together. If you are unfocused or if you do not know the target audience, why your game is useful, or who you want to have it then you will run into doldrums after the idea has taken form and you have to choose between one form of good and another.

There are all manner of ways a perfectly good game can be shaped and sculpted depending on the goals: If you are marketing a game to a competitive crowd you will need to crunch the numbers and make sure there is a lot of ambiguity to the optimum play strategies and control randomness in the design. If you are trying to make a fun game for friends and family to gather around, you need to have impactful but quick and limited decision points and emphasize fun interaction during any downtime a player might face—like trading cards or resources with the active player. If you do not keep the goal in mind and have it finely-tuned, the proofing and adapting process will be discordant, touch-and-go.

With Scarcity, I found I have been reaching too far and trying to include too many different concepts. Less that is fun and meaningful is better than more that is flashy but useless; after all, is it not more fun to be engaged over which random and unknown caterpillar is going fastest down its track than to have to spend four hours building a caterpillar to race for a few seconds? The initial prototype played so well around a very basic economy, it was silly to think that I was improving it by making the economy complex by slowing it all down.

So stick to your focus, ask what you are targeting and moving towards, and don’t get lost in the bushes looking for the possible golden nugget when you have a whole field of grain ripe for the picking before you unless you need a golden bee-bee to launch at a particular Goliath. Scarcity will be free, and while it is competitive there is only a little asymmetry so the balance will even out wherever it is laid—and it will be just as fun regardless so long as I maintain the initial vision that underwrote the first prototype on its sheet of lined notebook paper.